March 23, mid day, and the tour party, after a three hour bus transfer from Granada, arrives in Seville. First impressions of the city are highly favorable, with, our base, the TOC hostel, nestled in the down town core in the shadow of the famous Cathedral.
After checking in, the entire squad then heads out on a cycle tour of the city. Suffice it to say that the group of 44 students and 4 staff, almost all of them dwarfing their tiny mo-ped style rental bikes, draw some stares and guffaws!! The trek begins in the beautiful Parque Maria Luisa, goes on to take in the Plaza America and Plaza de Espana, and then moves on to the Plaza del Triunfo. The guides do a wonderful job explaining the history of each building and area, with, as was the case in Granada, an emphasis of the constant shifting and intersection through the centuries of the Islamic, Jewish and Christian religions.
Moving on, the group passes the Gardens of San Telmo, learning about Elmo, the patron saint of sailors. Of course, the city of Seville and the surrounding province of Huelva have a rich seafaring history, with a certain Christopher Columbus setting sail from these parts in 1492 on a voyage of discovery and the subsequent founding of the Americas.
The final part of the three hour trip sees the cyclists meander along the banks of the Guadalquivir River, which separates Seville from the suburbs of Triana.
Back at the TOC it is time for dinner and then a stroll along the Avenue de la Constitution. This main artery also features various plazas and a myriad of side streets. And, if Spain is indeed in the middle of a severe recession, one would not know it based on the countless shops, bars and restaurants packed with people.
The following morning, the SMUS crew visits the world famous Cathedral of Seville. The 90 minute tour and these few brief words simply cannot justice to the history, traditions, monuments, sculptures, artefacts,, treasures and stained glass windows that are only part of third largest cathedral in the world (behind St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London). Quite simply, trying to take everything in led to a headache, such was the information overload. At least, to clear the mind, one could take the 34 ramps and then 17 steps to the top of the main tower (170m high) and look out at the beauty of Seville sprawling below in all directions.
Of course, early that evening the focus shifted to the fourth matches of the tour, these against the well regarded Ciencias RFC. The hope for clear and calmer weather went unfounded, as a chilly wind and intermittent rain remained the team’s close companions.
The U17 game was a torrid battle, with SMUS opening smartly and controlling play for the first quarter. However, two promising line breaks were not completed, before the large and powerful home centre broke away twice to give Ciencias a 12-0 lead. Then came another score, before Marcelo Olsen replied courtesy of a barnstorming run. In the end, the home team triumphed 30-5, though not before the visitors had a try ruled out and then crossed the line on another occasion only to be held up in goal. Without doubt, SMUS gave its best performance of the tour, against a classy and skilled opponent. In the forwards, Bryce Forbes and Bryn Haydock, in addition to Olsen, battled strongly, with John Throne, as usual, a rock in defence. Behind the scrum, Tyler Strandberg ran well, while Jonas Robinson tightened up the midfield on his move to inside centre. Sam Kahn did well at #9, with Jon Sudul again solid at fullback.
At the same time, on an adjacent field, the 1st XV matched up with the Ciencias U19 squad. In a simply wonderful, suspenseful and action packed contest, the teams shared eight tries and five lead changes. SMUS, missing both Mac Valentine and Josh Graffi to knee strains, and with Noah Pryce-Baff still sidelined with a sore shoulder, fielded something of a makeshift pack, with Angus Catto opening at hooker and then later moving to tight head prop. Pablo Fernandez, usually a lock, played open side flanker while Michael Cernucan took on the No 8 role. All did well, and teamed with Dante Morandin, Sam Platt, Aidan Cole, Liam Catto and Myles Duncan to provide the quick ball the backs could use efficiently.
Indeed, in a whiirlwind opening, SMUS produced some excellent 15 man rugby, combining well to attack the wide channels. This approach, allied to slick handling and good support, resulted in three tries (one by Max Pollen and two by Lucas de Vries) in the first twenty minutes and should have produced a fourth but for a fatal decision to switch the ball back inside with de Vries unmarked on the right wing.
Then, in no time at all, the tenor of the game changed. Up 19-0, SMUS failed to chase a kick ahead in sufficient numbers, leaving the host’s rangy and dangerous fullback with time and space. 80 meters later, and after a devastating run that left multiple would be tacklers in his wake, said fullback was over the line for a sensational individual score. A minute later, a SMUS counterattack went awry, with the subsequent interception making the half time score 19-14.
The excitement was only just beginning. SMUS made a strong start to the second half, wave after wave of attacks foiled only by some very cynical defence. In the end, the visitors had only a missed penalty kick and an unsuccessful dive for the corner to show for their efforts.
Slowly, Ciencias tightened its grip on the game, making use of the wind and the rain. Fatigue and perhaps a touch of panic set in, with SMUS unable to clear from its quarter. Finally, after one too many errors, a try was conceded, allowing the hosts to gain their first lead of the night at 21-19.
Undeterred, SMUS immediately returned to the attack, as half backs Carson Smith and Graeme Hyde-Lay linked with centres Josh Kahn and Mitchell Newman to make good ground. From a penalty for offside, Owen Sudul connected from 30 meters to make the score 22-21 SMUS with seven minutes to play.
Of course, to make sure the healthy crowd in attendance got its money’s worth, and to give the coaches more grey hairs, SMUS made a mess of the ensuing restart, spurning three chances to clear the ball and instead opting for a series of long miss passes near the goalline. Inevitably, in the rain and, on what was now a greasy track, the ball was lost forward giving Ciencias a prime scoring opportunity.
SMUS defended bravely at the scrum, then at a lineout at which Liam Catto stole a throw. But the home siege continued, and with two minutes to go, the Ciencias No 8 burrowed over from close range. With the conversion, the score moved to 28-22.
Yet, time still remained. Sudul, cross covering diligently, rescued a dangerous chip through, giving SMUS one last scrum from deep inside its 22. With nothing to lose, a high risk behind the back reverse pass from Hyde-Lay to Newman sent the latter streaking through the middle and into the opposition half. Pollen, Duncan and Kahn were on hand to continue the move. Three phases later, with the home defence in disarray, Pollen knifed through the line, and following some superb footworkl, crossed to the left of the posts. SMUS was now down just a single point, with Sudul left with the chance to complete another dramatic comeback. Calm and composed, he made no mistake, adding the extras to bring down the curtain on a thrilling 29-28 win!!
Ciencias proved to be wonderful hosts, with the post game celebrations continuing on well towards midnight. For SMUS, it had been another important step forward. The U17 squad, against a formidable opponent, had acquitted itself very well. The 1st XV, for a second straight game, had found a way to scramble back in the final minute. It was a happy group that returned to the TOC.
Besides, after a cool, windy and often wet ten days, the tour was headed for the Algarve, in the South of Portugal. Blue skies and warmer temperatures beckoned as the squad looked to “chase the sun”!!